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POLICE

‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Top tips for dealing with police in France

Interactions with law enforcement can be stressful wherever you are, but differences in both the legal system and the methods of policing mean that there are extra challenges for foreigners in France.

'Don't mess with French cops' - Top tips for dealing with police in France
A police officer and member of the member of the anti-criminality (BAC) police brigade holds a tear gas canister (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

While we’re sure that most readers of The Local are law-abiding folk, there are some scenarios that will involve contact with police in France, and in that case there are some things you should be aware of.

Police in France can stop you at any time for an ID check or traffic stop, for many minor offences they can issue a fine and under certain circumstances they can arrest you.

You can find the complete guide to what to do if you are arrested HERE.

Even if you are not arrested, random stops in France are more common than in many anglophone countries.

We asked Jay Epping, the American Citizen Services Chief, at the US Embassy in France, for advice.

“Don’t mess with French cops,” he told us.

For foreigners in France, it is important to understand that insulting French police or becoming aggressive towards them can lead to arrest and detention.

A common scenario for tourists is being stopped for an innocuous reason – such as a ticket check on the Paris Metro – and becoming confrontational towards officers, which can lead to being arrested.

You may have seen this on the news, but French officers also have a fairly robust policing style when it comes to public disorder or demonstrations, if you’re in one of the big cities and a demo is happening nearby it’s not particularly unusual to be tear-gassed.

It might sound obvious, but foreigners in France should also be aware that the legal and judicial system works quite differently than those of the United States and the United Kingdom. You can find our full guide to the French legal system HERE.

READ ALSO Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

“The [American] constitution does not apply here,” added Mr Epping. “Foreigners in France should be aware of the fact that the laws of France might differ from the laws of your home country”. 

So what are the most common scenarios for foreigners interacting with French police?

Maître Matthieu Chirez, who specialises in French criminal law at the J.P. Karsenty & Associates law firm, said that driving stops where one of the most common scenarios, known as contrôle routières.

“Foreigners often interact with French police in situations of drunkenness and traffic stops,” said Maître Chirez. 

If you’re driving you can be stopped for a specific offence such as speeding or dangerous driving, or police can pull you over just to check your documents or ask you to take a breathalyser test.

Stops and ID checks in the vicinity of the French Channel ports – especially for people driving a van or large estate car – are also common as police are working to stop illegal migration to the UK.

One driving rule that often catches out foreigners is stopping at ‘Stop’ signs – if you see a sign you must come to a complete halt – even if you’re in the middle of the French countryside and there is no other vehicle for miles around.

Going through on a rolling stop is an offence and if police see you do this they will stop and fine you.

Cyclists can also be stopped by police for traffic offences such as going through a red light or wearing headphones while cycling, which is illegal in France. There are also speed limits and traffic rules for people riding electric scooters.

READ ALSO How to avoid being hit with a fine when cycling in French cities

Other common scenarios include public drunkenness or violent behaviour.

According to Mr. Epping, the common situations where foreigners might be arrested or detained tend to be violent or highly disruptive drunkenness or domestic violence, while more serious offences such as rape, assault or murder are rare.

In certain specific cases you can be arrested in relation to a serious crime committed outside of France, for which you are wanted in your country of origin. This depends whether your country of origin has specific treaties in place with France. 

If you are arrested, you have the right to legal advice and to call your Embassy – but be aware that the help Embassies can offer is much more limited than many people think.

Member comments

  1. I don’t quite understand the heading of this article and what the fuss is about. Thinking about a foreign country where you have to be very wary of “messing with the police” or having a strange legal system, my first thoughts would be the USA. And I am not alone in this. Based on previous experiences, when officials from the Netherlands government travel to the States, they are given diplomatic visas and not the usual ETA. Not that this is advertised ofcourse.

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For members

TAXES

Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

Living in France involves paying plenty of taxes, but if you receive a bill that is unusually large, here's how to go about checking it and challenging it if necessary.

Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

Question: I just received my French tax bill and it’s roughly four times bigger than in previous years, even though my circumstances haven’t changed. Help!

Tax rates in France are generally quite high – overall French residents have the highest tax burden in the EU – but if your bill has suddenly massively increased while your circumstances haven’t changed, it could be a mistake.

Income taxes v property taxes

You get two tax bills per years in France – income tax and property tax.

If you are a resident in France you must fill in the annual tax declaration, even if all your income comes from outside France. The deadline for the declaration is May/June (depending on where you live) and bills are sent out in July and August, with payment due from September.

These bills cover tax and social charges on your income.

Bills for property taxes are sent out in the autumn and cover taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière. Taxe foncière is paid by the property owner and taxe d’habitation is paid by the householder. Taxe d’habitation is gradually being phased out and now applies only to second-home owners and high earners.

Property taxes are set at a local level and taxe foncière has been increasing sharply in recent years – your bill may also increase if you have done significant home improvements such as installing a swimming pool

Income tax

Your annual tax declaration covers all your income (eg pensions, salary, rental income) plus any tax credits that you are entitled to such as family tax credits.

Your total bill is then calculated as the tax you owe on your income, minus any tax that you have already paid (for example for employees who have their taxes deducted at source) and minus any tax credits that you are entitled to.

For most people their bill is slightly different each year depending on exact income and tax credit level, but if your circumstances have stayed largely the same and the bill has suddenly quadrupled, there is likely to be an error somewhere.

Next steps

If you suspect an error, the next step is working out whether it was your mistake or the tax office’s, and whether it’s your new total that is correct or your previous total (as it’s possible that you have been under-paying in previous years).

If your tax affairs are complicated then it’s probably best to get a professional to do this, here are some of the things to check first:

READ ALSO: How can I find professional help with my French taxes?

Do you have income outside France? If you have income outside France – eg a pension or rental income in your home country – then you have to declare this to the French tax man but if your home country has a dual taxation agreement with France (and most countries do) then you won’t have to pay any tax on it in France.

If your bill has suddenly jumped then it’s possible that you’re being taxed on this income – either due to a mistake in the tax office or because you did not declare it as revenus de source étrangère (foreign income) on your tax declaration.

Is your bill for taxes or social charges? French tax bills are made up of two things – impots (tax) and charges sociales (social charges eg unemployment insurance and pension contributions).

Certain types of foreign income such as investment income are not taxed, but may have social charges paid. However, social charges are not applicable to a foreign pension, so if charges have been applied to your pension, then this is an error.

Correct declaration

If you realise that you made an error on your tax declaration, then you can correct it and ask for a new tax calculation to be made based on the new information.

If you file your declaration online, you can also correct it online by going to your impots.gouv account and clicking on Accéder à la déclaration en ligne then clicking on corriger.

If you declared on paper you can file a new declaration, stating on the first page that it is a ‘correct and replace’ declaration.

Tax office

If you can’t work out where the error is, or you’re pretty sure that it’s the tax office at fault, you can visit and ask for help – even quite small French towns have a tax office that is open to the public. 

The first step is to find your local tax office – Google ‘Centre des Finances Publique’ plus the name of your commune, and up should come the address of your local office.

It’s best to check in advance, because officials can only help those in the area covered by a particular office, so they will just have to send you elsewhere if you turn up at the wrong centre.

Most centres don’t require an appointment, so just go in and ask for help – it’s a good idea to take all relevant documentation with you, and certainly a printout of the tax you received and your most recent tax declaration.

To the surprise of foreigners who might be used to dealing with HMRC or the IRS, French tax office employees are not only accessible, they are also by and large friendly and helpful and will be happy to look over your declaration and explain the reasons for your bill. 

If it seems that your bill is an error, you can request a recalculation, and if you visit the tax office the official will help you fill in the form and lodge the request. 

Fines

If your tax affairs are not in order, it’s also possible that you could be fined by the tax office.

The most common reasons for fines levied on foreigners in France are;

Missing the declaration deadline – deadlines for the tax declaration are in May or June depending where you live, and if you miss the deadline you are liable for late fees, which increase as time goes on.

The French tax calendar for 2022

Not completing the declaration – if you are a resident in France you must complete the annual declaration – even if you are a salaried employee who has already had their tax deducted at source, or if you have no income in France (eg you live on a pension paid from your home country). In many circumstances you won’t have to pay any tax in France, but you still need to fill in the declaration.

If you are a British second-home owner who has obtained the post-Brexit carte de séjour (sometimes known as the WARP card or TUE Article 50) you are considered a resident by French authorities and must make the declaration – full details here.

If you fail to complete the declaration and ignore all reminders, French tax authorities do have the power to make an estimated tax bill and send that to you.

Not declaring foreign bank accounts – if you have accounts outside of France, which many foreigners do, you must declare these on your tax declaration, even if the accounts are dormant or only have tiny amounts in them.

This also applies to any foreign investment schemes you have, such as life insurance policies. 

The penalty for not listing accounts is between €1,500 and €10,000 and that applies for each account you fail to declare. 

Please note, this article constitutes general advice only – for individual tax questions it is best to seek professional help.

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